For the next 2 minutes, ignore the buzzes and dings of your iPhone, Droid, Blackberry, IM, and/or e-mail. Yes, try to focus on only one thing: Reading this article. This exercise will help you create better focusing neural networks in your brain. The more you do an activity, the more you reinforce neural networks in your brain for doing that activity. Taking time out every day to focus on doing just one thing will start to re-establish patterns in your brain necessary for focusing.
How did we get into this multitasking zone anyway? Let’s start with the sheer boredom of day-to-day living. Driving—well, yes that is boring, until you cream that car in front of you because you were reading or responding to a text message or answering a call. How often has that “almost” happened to you in the past month? Tending to mundane tasks at home—chores such as laundry, meal prep, dinner clean up—are tolerable when you are plugged in.
Quality family time in front of the TV is the perfect time to process those 50 new e-mails, check out what your friends are doing on Facebook, play a game of scrabble with some remote friends, or “StumbleUpon” just seeing what interesting things are on the Web. Multitasking is actually fun—and it makes the mundane become merry.
People often boast about their multitasking skills. Go against this trend by working on developing your “uni-tasking” skills. The downside of multitasking is that it is more difficult to do each task effectively than if you were concentrating on one task at a time. The other downside is that you can damage relationships, both business and personal, if you bring your practice of multitasking to conversations, such as checking your e-mail while you are discussing an important issue with someone.
When you apply laser focus on one task with all of your brainpower, you can enter into a state of flow. Flow is a mental state when you are fully immersed in an activity, have full focus, and are energized by successfully completing the activity. This state cannot be achieved when multitasking.
Staying connected 24/7 keeps your mind whirring. This does, over time, hurt your ability to focus. But just how do you reclaim your brain?
Set limits for yourself. Here are some ideas:
• Step away from your connection device for at least 10 minutes every hour.
• Limit your computer time to no more than 6 hours a day.
• If you are addicted to your mobile device in the car, treat it like a firearm. In most states, you can travel with a gun in your car, but it can’t be accessible and you can’t have it loaded. Try setting the same rules with your mobile device.
• E-mail, IM and texting are response stimulus systems. The less you use them the less you have to use them. Ever notice how when you go on “vacation” the e-mail stream slows down? Making office hours will enable you to respond to e-mails, answer the phone, and be available on IM chat.
And consider this: The less available you are, the more desirable you become. Scarcity equals desirability.
Practice paying complete attention to the task at hand. When you’re doing the truly mundane, you might even figure out better ways to get the work accomplished while you’re doing the work.
Reflect on what you just experienced. Yes, stop and think about what you just did. This will help you sharpen your brain.
Your brain is connected to your body. You need to take time every day to care for your body—this means attending to your exercise and diet.
Pay attention to paying attention. Catch yourself when you start to multitask.
Focus on the people around you. When was the last time you sat down to a meal with another person and did not look at your mobile device?
You can reclaim your brain. Take time to fully get to know yourself, learn your own operating system, and get it into peak operating performance.